KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Tourism Minister caused consternation in Germany when he reportedly said there are no gays in Malaysia.
According to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi - who was in the European country for the ITB Berlin travel fair - was asked by the German media whether Malaysia will welcome gays.
"I don't think we have anything like that in our country," he said.
Deutsche Welle also claimed that Mr Mohamaddin had sidestepped a question of whether Malaysia is a safe destination for homosexuals and Jews.
An aide to the minister later told news portal Malaysiakini that the statement was Mr Mohamaddin's personal views although it was in line with the Pakatan Harapan government's stance of not recognising LGBT culture.
Nevertheless, the aide, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "Tourists coming to Malaysia like any other country are welcome regardless of their creed, sexuality, religion or colour."
Opposition Malaysian Chinese Association's (MCA) deputy president Mah Hang Soon said Mr Mohamaddin's remarks on homosexuality have made Malaysia a laughing stock, the Star news website reported.
Datuk Mah, expressing disbelief at the remarks, criticised the Parti Warisan Sabah leader's ability to field questions from the media.
"He was asked by a reporter if Malaysia is safe for homosexuals. All he needed to say was that Malaysia is a safe country and every tourist is safe here," said Dr Mah.
He said that Mr Mohamaddin had instead made an "outlandish" remark that homosexuality does not exist in Malaysia.
"Malaysia does not ask or care about the sexual orientation of tourists. He just needed to say every tourist must respect the laws and cultural sensitivities of their host countries and it ends there," Dr Mah said in a statement.
Mr Mohamaddin's remarks had dented Malaysia's reputation, Dr Mah said, advising the minister to issue clarification on the matter, the Star reported.
Raising doubt over the performance of certain ministers, Dr Mah said: "It's clear that some of them are non-performers and that they needed to be dropped soon. Please do not send them to other ministries."
Concerns have been mounting in Malaysia, a multi-ethnic country where some 60 per cent of the population is Muslim, about a deteriorating climate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Last September, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said his country cannot accept same-sex marriage or LGBT rights.
"In Malaysia, there are some things we cannot accept, even though it is seen as human rights in Western countries," he had said. "We cannot accept LGBT, marriage between men and men, women and women."
Islamic affairs minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa too has spoken out against homosexuals and ordered pictures of LGBT activists to be removed from a public exhibition.
The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) has estimated the number of LGBT people in the country to be at 310,000, although it later admitted that the amount has not been verified by the Health ministry.